April 16, 2024 // Bishop

Bishop Rhoades Visits St. Michael School in Plymouth

“Are we here to play basketball?” Bishop Rhoades joked to the kindergarteners and first graders gathered to meet him in the gym at St. Michael Catholic School in Plymouth.

After the bishop told the excited students that he couldn’t play after all – he didn’t bring his sneakers and might slide – one of the students suggested, “But then you can be faster than all of us!”

Instead, the students found themselves engaged after Bishop Rhoades began a conversation about heaven, hell, and the Resurrection.

Bishop Rhoades addresses the congregation at the beginning of the morning Mass on the feast of St. Stanislaus, Thursday, April 11.

During his pastoral visit to St. Michael on Thursday, April 11, Bishop Rhoades opened the day with an all-school Mass at the adjoining parish church, then visited classrooms after breakfast.

St. Michael has been around since the time of the Civil War. Amy Weidner, Principal of the school, attended the school herself in the 1970s, and her father attended the school in the 1940s. Weidner has a 30-year career in school administration, 13 of which she has spent at her elementary school alma mater. “Peacefulness” is a word Weidner used to describe the school – a description she said comes from parent visits as well as her own experience as a student.

St. Michael serves children in grades K-8, including a growing Hispanic population, which makes up about 40 percent of the entire student population.

“Our primary goal is to plant the seed of faith in the heart of every future saint that walks our halls,” Father Fernando Jimenez, Pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church, told Today’s Catholic.

Bishop Rhoades talks to the third-grade class about different ways to pray during his pastoral visit to St. Michael School in Plymouth on Thursday, April 11.

One of the ways the school does that is to offer confession and Eucharistic adoration at the end of the school day on most Fridays throughout the year, a practice they began during the National Eucharistic Revival. “The students look forward to each Friday when they can see their friend, Jesus,” Father Jimenez said.

Weidner said preparations for Bishop Rhoades’ visit entailed “mainly letting the students know the importance of his role as our diocesan spiritual leader. … Especially during this Easter time, we feel very blessed that he’s visiting,” Weidner said.

Fifth grade students volunteer to answer Bishop Rhoades’ questions about the different levels of holy orders during his pastoral visit to St. Michael School.

“Most of the time, we see the bishop when he comes for special occasions – for example, for confirmations,” Father Jimenez said. “So, I believe that it is extremely important to provide a time and a space for the bishop and the students to interact on a more personal level.”

Weidner added that it’s important for the students “to get to know him a little bit and understand how human he is, and that he really does care deeply, not just about the faith but about them also. Once they meet him and talk with him, it’s easy to get to know him.”

The kindergarten and first grade students prepare to answer the Bishop Rhoades’ questions about the Resurrection.

In the classrooms, Bishop Rhoades talked with the students about the topics they were learning in their religion classes – anything from the grades of holy orders to the theological virtues to the Catholic Church’s teaching on gender. To the eighth grade students, whom the bishop had just confirmed the week before, Bishop Rhoades gave history of the diocese’s formation.

At every class, Bishop Rhoades asked if the students had questions for him. “He is so happy to tell them and let them ask any questions, and I think that is a real strength of his,” Weidner said. “We appreciate that very much.”

Bishop Rhoades asks the second grade students if they were nervous for their first penances, which happened earlier this school year.

“What’s it like being a bishop?” one of the students asked.

“I like it most of the time,” Bishop Rhoades said with a laugh. He added, more seriously, “It’s really serving God – what can be more fulfilling?” He also said his favorite part of being a bishop is celebrating the sacraments, and, as a bishop, he can administer all seven sacraments.

Weidner added that one of the most common question students ask is about the bishop’s “different clothing items.” In several classrooms, students asked about the “staff,” the “big cross necklace,” and the “hat.” A commonly asked question was about the bishop’s ring. It’s a symbol of his commitment to serving the Church, like a wedding ring, Bishop Rhoades responded.   

In almost every classroom, Bishop Rhoades also gave blessings and prayed the Hail Mary in Spanish with the students.

Provided by Amy Weidner
The spiritual bouquet presented to Bishop Rhoades from St. Michael’s School is signed by all teachers and students.

In the older grades, Bishop Rhoades encouraged the students to hold fast to and stand up for their faith, especially if they would be moving to a public high school after attending St. Michael School. His focus on priorities was apparent in his homily during Mass as well.

In his homily, Bishop Rhoades told the inspiring story of the saint of the day, St. Stanislaus, a Polish bishop who stood up against the immorality of the king and was martyred for this during Mass. “Now we have different priorities in our lives – school is important, church community, family, etc.,” Bishop Rhoades told the students. “Number one is always God.”

As a token of their appreciation, the students presented Bishop Rhoades with a spiritual bouquet after Mass. The bouquet was made of paper flowers formed from the traced handprints of the schoolteachers, signed by all the students, and covered with prayers being offered for the bishop. While the bishop has responsibility for his flock, Weidner called prayers for Bishop Rhoades “the responsibilities we have to him.”

St. Michael Catholic School

Address: 612 N Center St., Plymouth
Phone: 574-936-4329
Year founded: 1861
Number of students: 225
Nickname: Crusaders
Principal: Amy Weidner

Website: saintmichaelschool.org

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